How much damage did the Shen Neng 1 do the Great Barrier Reef?

Australian arrested two Chinese sailors over the grounding of the Shen Neng 1 coal carrier on the Great Barrier Reef, and Australian investigators are looking into the extent of the damage when the ship was grounded while taking an illegal shortcut through the protected ecosystem.

Queensland Government/HO/AFP/Newscom
Oil leaks from the Shen Neng 1 as its hull rests on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, on April 4.

Australian police arrested two men on Wednesday in connection with the grounding of a Chinese ship on the Great Barrier Reef two weeks ago, as authorities sought to determine the full extent of the damage.

Two Chinese men were charged as the master and chief officer on watch when the Shen Neng 1 coal carrier ran into the Douglas Shoal on April 3.

IN PICTURES: Disaster averted at the Great Barrier Reef

The former is charged with liability for a vessel causing damage in a marine park and faces a maximum fine of $55,000. The latter, charged with being the person in charge of a vessel when it caused damage to a marine park, faces up to $220,000 in fines and/or three years in jail. Both men, who were not identified, will appear in court on Thursday.

A statement on their arrest said that “the Shen Neng 1 failed to turn at a waypoint required by the intended course of the ship.”

The ship ran aground on April 3 and drifted along the Great Barrier Reef for more than a week, leaking 2 to 4 tons of oil, shedding dangerous anti-fouling paint, and cutting a two-mile gash into the coral. This week authorities pumped away its remaining 975 tons of oil and towed the ship from the reef.

Bad weather at the current site of the ship was preventing divers from inspecting the damage to its hull, Mike Lutze from Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Toxic paint

A team of investigators from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) is heading to the site of the accident to inspect damage, equipped with divers, sonar equipment, and cameras. It is set to arrive on Thursday and spend about four days. Divers carrying cameras will take footage of coral, sponges, and other reef organisms. Other cameras will be used in deeper areas, and sonar will be used to map the sea floor Andrew Negri, who is heading the investigation, explained in a statement on Wednesday.

Scientists will measure the toxicity of the anti-fouling paint used to coat the Shen Neng 1 (such paint is used on most ships to prevent the buildup of marine life, which creates drag). If it contains heavy metals, it might prevent new life from colonizing altogether, said David Wachenfeld, chief scientist with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, according to the Associated Press.

Russell Reichelt, the chairman of the GBRMPA, told the ABC that “the paint that’s been scraped off onto the reef is killing corals in its vicinity or they’re showing signs of almost immediate mortality from being close to the anti-fouling.”

AIMS investigators said they will try to clean up the paint by hand or, if it is too scattered, use an underwater vacuum.

Oil washes ashore

Some oil has washed ashore on two islands that are both about 12 miles away from where the Shen Neng ran aground. On North West Island, a cleanup team of about 25 people has scooped up most of the oil that settled onto a half-mile stretch of beach.

North West Island is home to many sea birds, turtles, and other animals. Though the amount of oil there is not considerable, the birds there are at risk, Mike Kingsford, a professor from James Cook University, told the ABC. “They are actually drinking and feeding from those local waters,” he said.

On Tyron Island, about five liters of oil and sand was found on the shoreline and cleaned up, according to Maritime Safety Queensland.

IN PICTURES: Disaster averted at the Great Barrier Reef

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